Voting rights bill, filibuster change fail in Senate votes

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., walks to his office in the Hart Senate Office Building at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday. Manchin has remained firm on his filibuster stance and voted against adopting a "talking filibuster" for the voting rights legislation on Wednesday. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI

Jan. 20 (UPI) — Efforts to pass voting rights legislation and a subsequent “nuclear option” to alter the filibuster failed in the Senate on Wednesday.

Senators voted 51-49, falling short of the 60 votes needed to advance The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act less than a week after the House voted in favor of the bill.

A subsequent vote to change filibuster rules require a so-called “talking filibuster” specifically for the voting rights legislation also failed to meet the threshold in a 52-48 vote with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona joining Republicans in opposing the measure.

President Joe Biden issued a statement after the vote saying that he was “profoundly disappointed that the United States Senate has failed to stand up for our democracy” by not passing the legislation but was not “deterred.”

“As dangerous new Republican laws plainly designed to suppress and subvert voting rights proliferate in states across the country, we will explore every measure and use every tool at our disposal to stand up for democracy,” Biden said.

Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden tasked with leading the White House agenda on voting rights, described Wednesday as a “historic night.”

“History is going to record and watch certainly, the votes that are taking place,” Harris said. “This is about the fundamental freedom to vote and what should be unfettered access to the ballot. I am here to make a strong statement that this is, whatever happens tonight from the outcome of this vote, the president and I are not going to give up on this issue. This is fundamental to our democracy and it’s non-negotiable.”

Several states have passed more restrictive voting laws in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, which saw Biden defeat incumbent President Donald Trump. Trump has since pushed baseless claims of election fraud, which ultimately led to his supporters attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to attempt to halt Congress’ certification of the election results.

The new voting rights legislation seeks to increase access to voting across the country, including same-day voter registration, making Election Day a public holiday, setting a standard for a minimum number of early voting days and allowing mail-in voting for any reason.

Democrats have accused Republican-leaning states of passing laws that disproportionately restrict minority voters.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, during Wednesday’s debate, said Democrats’ accusations are “disgraceful.”

“Whether Democrats believe their accusations or are making a cynical attempt to paint Republicans as anti-voting, these false claims undermine faith in democracy,” he said.

The failure to pass the legislation triggered a second vote led by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York who had sought a verbal filibuster that, after a lengthy debate, would have allowed the chamber to pass the voting rights bill on a simple majority.

Manchin and Sinema, however, have refused to vote to change filibuster rules, arguing the procedure encourages bipartisan cooperation.

Schumer said he disagrees with Manchin and Sinema’s reasoning for keeping the current filibuster rules, saying few people believe it actually “helps bring us together.”

“I don’t see evidence of that at all, and I think the majority of my colleagues would agree with that,” he said. “But even those who feel that the filibuster is a good thing and helps bring us together, I would ask them this question: Isn’t the protection of voting rights … more important?

“Win, lose or draw, we are going to vote, we are going to vote,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Especially when the issue relates to the beating heart of our democracy, as voting rights does.”


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